Saturday, November 29, 2014

This That Week In Tickets: 27 October 2014 - 2 November 2014

Plays & pictures, which became a lot more of a theme as I was writing up Birdman.

This Week in Tickets

It's been a while since I saw these movies, so those two empty days involved the Giants winning the World Series in large part because of Pablo Sandoval, who is now on my local team. Yay!

First up, though, was NT Live Frankenstein with Cumberbatch & Miller, which I've wanted to see since watching it the other way around three and a half years ago.

I'd been planning on seeing Bitter Honey, but didn't find out about the director visiting until a random ad popped up on Facebook, which was neat, but the definition of under the radar.

On Halloween, I hemmed and hawed on what to do but eventually opted to go to Izzy's presentation of Jeffrey Combs in Nevermore; it wasn't quite what I was expecting, but I could see why everyone had been excited to see it at Fantasia a couple years ago. I stuck around for The Masque of the Red Death after that, but I was kind of wiped out.

Saturday, I became the not-quite-last person to see Boyhood, although it certainly felt like I was living dangerously with it, waiting for locations, times, and my availability to line up. Surprise, it's as good as they say. Then I headed down the Red Line for Birdman, which made for a pretty good day.

Sunday was lazy until I opted for the Silent Fritz Lang double feature of Four Around a Woman & The Moving Image, which are neat looks at the early work of a master, if incomplete ones.

NT Live: Frankenstein

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 27 October 2014 in Regal Fenway #8 (NT Live, DCP)

Three and a half years ago, I saw this production with Benedict Cumberbatch playing Victor and Jonny Lee Miller playing the Creature, and I hoped ever since that I would get to see the other version, mildly shocked that they haven't put something that would be a pretty easy sell (along with the two Sherlock Holmeses, it also features Naomie Harris and is directed by Danny Boyle) out on Blu-ray. But, if you can pull it out every once in a while and get people to pay $15 for it, why wouldn't you?

And, yeah, I'll probably pay another $15 the next time it reappears, because this thing is really good. I found it better on a second viewing, too, because the first time around I was a bit too annoyed about them moving the camera and cutting despite this being a stage production, and this time I was able to just appreciate how amazing the production was in terms of staging and lighting .

Also, last time around I mentioned that Cumberbatch as Victor and Miller as the monster seemed like the natural casting, making me curious to see it the other way around. That was before Miller had been cast as Sherlock Holmes on Elementary, so I didn't know him from much. I did like that he played Victor as a very different type of temperamental genius than Holmes, and on side, Cumberbatch's stroke-victim take on the Creature maybe worked a bit better for me than Miller's two-year-old. It's curious to me that in both versions, I find that Miller was able to bring a bit more humor in.

What needs to happen now, though, is for the makers of Sherlock and Elementary to find a character from the canon that neither show has used and cast Miller and Cumberbatch, respectively, in the part. In addition to resulting in great work, these cross-casting bits have given audiences a fascinating look at how two different actors in similar circumstances can do different things with the same role, and I want to see them stretch it a bit more.


* * * (out of four)
Seen 31 October 2014 in Somerville Theatre #1 (Izzy Lee presents, live)

What a weird experience. Glad I saw it now, but not so enraptured that I wish I had sacrificed a movie or two to see it in Montreal (other than being curious as to whether the Boston references were new for this performance). It's a neat play, though.

One thing I didn't realize was just how distinctive Jeffrey Combs's voice is. Even with the impressive make-up and accent, he was still the guy from The Frighteners and Deep Space Nine, not quite to the point of being unable to see his portrayal of Edgar Allan Poe, but always aware that it was Combs playing the part. In some ways, when the play gets away from the spooky, bitter, and morose Poe I expected to a very funny one, it works in part because I can see Combs doing that.

Then it starts to be about drinking and I don't quite tune out, but... Well, I just don't respond strongly to "guy gets drunk and makes an ass of himself", even when it's as well done as it is here. Combs does the thing, and does it well, but it's done in a sort of heavy-handed way and is sort of too-familiar besides.

Masque of the Red Death

* * * (out of four)
Seen 31 October 2014 in Somerville Theatre #1 (Halloween!, 35mm)

A Poe-adapted follow up to the play in 35mm (and one I don't remember from a series the Brattle did a couple years back) made for a good Halloween capper. I think, even at an hour and a half, it stretches what I remember being a fairly short original story enough that I found myself just wanting it to get on with things and struggling to stay awake (I was on work + supper + play + movie by that point), so I can't necessarily judge it fairly.

Still, it's hard to deny that they theater got a fine 35mm print and that is a heck of a bonus when you get a Corman movie that looks as good as this one. Corman was ambitious here, and had a pretty darn good crew to put things together, with the crown jewel (at least in retrospect) being Nicolas Roeg as director of photography. The colors jump off the screen, and while the costumes and settings may not be the sort of sumptuous ones that respectable period pieces get, it certainly doesn't look cheap or half-hearted.

The script may stretch, but it has horrors to present, and one of the best weapons Corman has is Vincent Price at his villainous best. There's an art to smoothly talking about how one worships Satan without sounding the wrong kind of insane, and few ever managed it better than Price. Jane Asher as the virtuous prisoner and Hazel Court as the scheming lady of the manor keep things interesting (and, yeah, sexy). I hope I get another chance to watch it again in this sort of environment soon, because it's easily one of my favorite Corman pictures.


* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 1 November 2014 in Arlington Captiol #3 (second-run, DCP)

Well, that certainly is all it's cracked up to be.

It almost has to be; although Richard Linklater set out to make a film that followed a boy growing up over a period of twelve years, I still imagine he would have maybe looked to other things or repurposed the footage if, after a year or three, what he was getting just didn't work. And once you've got that good start, the confidence to press on must appear.

At that point, I suspect the biggest concern is not going big, but sticking to this very human-sized story that adds and discards characters, not necessarily bringing them back later because, for better or for worse, that's not how life works, with everything building to a final resolution. And, sure, the thing that brings me my biggest bit of discontent comes from that - I don't know that Mason (Ellar Coltrane) necessarily grows up into a tremendously interesting young man. The things that carry through the movie that affected me the most are probably Mason's parents (played from start to finish by Particia Arquette & Ethan Hawke) getting their lives together, although that may be just a function of my age.

Still, there's no denying that there's an authenticity to Boyhood that one doesn't see elsewhere. A year ago, I noted a film at Fantasia where something seemed off because the kid they had playing Haley Joel Osment's character as a young boy clearly wasn't 12-year-old Osment, which comes with the territory. You accept good actors who don't look related, hard-working make-up people, or casting family in movies with this kind of sweep because you need to, but seeing the real thing is wonderful and astonishing here. It draws you into the story in a way that mimics real life in a way other movies can't, linking to how one processes time passing in reality rather than figuring it out in film.

With this, Richard Linklater and Ethan Hawke have two of the most ambitious projects in terms of examining people over time ever in film under their belts (it and Before Sunrise/Sunset/Midnight arguably only fall behind 7 Up and its follow-ups there), and this is arguably the most controlled of them, mostly going where Linklater scripted it out from the start. Heck of a thing, that, and while I'm curious how something with a firmer plot would look done like this, I half-wonder if it's even possible.

Birdman: or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 1 November 2014 in AMC Boston Common #12 (first-run, DCP)

The world needs a Michael Keaton comeback, and if Birdman does nothing other than remind it of this fact, then it has done the world a valuable service. That it's also one of the most exciting movies you ca watch in a theater right now is just a great big bonus.

Sure, it may seem too clever by half to cast Keaton as a guy who has fallen into relatively undeserved obscurity since bailing on another comic book sequel twenty years ago, but that's arguably what movie stars are for, and the fact that the audience can still jump into this metastory, filling in the background of Keaton's character Riggan Thomson, shows he still is one. It's interesting that Keaton says Riggan is not much like him at all, and I can sort of see that - there's something about Riggan that is really desperate to be respected, even though that will apparently never happen, while Keaton seems like a guy who goes forward, does the work, occasionally coming up with something pretty darn good like The Merry Gentleman but more often than not taking what comes his way without being ashamed of his c.v. That portrayal of the character is still terrific, though - there's self-doubt and desperation to Riggan, but despite how far his character can be from what the audience is familiar with, and how strangely some of his delusion is expressed, it's easy to empathize with this guy.

He's surrounded by other great characters: Emma Stone is beautifully sharp as the daughter he's trying to help and connect with who resents it, for instance, and Edward Norton is hilariously bigger-than-life as the new co-star whose monstrous tendencies are overlooked because he is of this place in a way that Riggan won't be allowed to be. That's brought out best by Linsday Duncan in her few scenes as Tabitha - she's actually playing one of the most monstrous evil critics I can ever remember seeing, and while there's no mistaking it, she doesn't froth and rave like so many do. Her sneering is defensive and, in a way, sad. She's worth hating but not worth getting worked up about.

Interestingly, for as much as filmmaker Alejandro González Iñárritu's characters obsess over how the stage is legitimate theater, with the likes of Riggan dilettantes desperate for respect who should be kept out, he's determined to do things that only movies can pull off, with a roving camera that follows characters from one location to another, hiding jumps in time in mid-pan and letting close-ups and special effects help tell the story without pulling away from the rest. The long shots stitched together pull the audience along, and Iñárritu never lets the grass grow under the audience's feet.

I almost wonder, on reflection, if this is something he's been frustrated personally. Like Keaton saying he's not much like Riggan in the press, Iñárritu has talked about how superhero movies are "cultural genocide", and he certainly seems sincere enough in dissing them (and having made mostly very-serious movies until this), but I wonder if there isn't something to how Riggan's embarrassment at having been Birdman - which is still remembered fondly by people around the globe twenty years later - is meant to contrast with the snobby theater people whose work, by its nature, will disappear from memory. Characters fret about how now these empty spectacles seen around the world will be actors' legacies rather than small stories seen by a privileged few, but is it really such a bad thing?

Bitter Honey
Nevermore & Masque of the Red Death
Four Around a Woman & The Moving Image

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